Feeling Harassed at Work? Know Your Rights

Even in the 21st century when people should know that any form of harassment or discrimination is likely to be recorded on a camera somewhere, it still happens. Studies have shown that somewhere around 33 million women have reported being sexually harassed at work, and that’s just one form of possible harassment.

Federal and state laws and regulations have helped to force businesses to tighten their policies on harassment in the workplace. Federal regulations like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have sprouted branching policies and departments to enforce accountability and consequences on those who violate their statutes.

But what exactly does “harassment” mean in terms of your employment environment?

The Definition of Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment can take multiple shapes and forms, and it can come from the least likely of sources. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has an official definition that is used any time someone accuses another person of employment harassment.

Per the EEOC, harassment is defined as:

“…unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

The definition may seem very detailed, but it was designed purposely to eliminate the potential for small grievances or retaliation because someone just did not like the way someone else said something. In fact, in order to qualify as harassment, the conduct has to have created a work environment that is considered hostile, intimidating, or offensive to the average, “reasonable” person.

Of course, this definition is not the only one used to determine if harassment applies to a situation. Some states have their own statutes that go beyond those set in place by the EEOC. Harassment against someone for having an arrest conviction, smoking, political affiliation, or even because of one’s marital status is discriminated against, among other things, in certain states.

Types of Workplace Harassment You May Encounter

Harassment comes in many forms, so if you are feeling uncomfortable around a coworker or boss and you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, it may be that you are being harassed and don’t even realize it.

Common forms of harassment include:

  1. Racial harassment: Anyone who makes racial slurs, insults, or jokes, comments that are degrading pertaining to someone else’s ethnicity, ancestry, country of origin, skin color, race, or citizenship, exhibits and attitude of disgust or is intolerant of differences is perpetrating harassment.
  2. Gender harassment: Any discrimination towards a person based on their gender is harassment. This is very common in the workplace due to negative gender stereotypes that some individuals develop throughout their lives, but it can make a work environment uncomfortable. Many women complain about hitting a “glass ceiling” in their careers because of these gender stereotypes.
  3. Religious harassment: Discrimination due to a person’s religious beliefs displayed as intolerance towards holidays, traditions, and customs, is harassment, as is degrading or derogatory religious jokes or stereotypes.
  4. Disability-based harassment: Anyone who suffers a disability, knows a disabled person, or uses disability services is to be free from workplace harassment, including derogatory comments, isolation, or refusal of reasonable accommodations.
  5. Age-based harassment: Individuals aged 40 and older are to be considered just as employable as other candidates. Age-based harassment includes teasing, isolation, or criticism because of one’s age.
  6. Sexual orientation-based harassment: This is quite common today as people are stepping out more and more to admit to a different sexual orientation. Regardless of your sexual orientation, it is illegal for you to be discriminated against.
  7. Physical harassment: Also known as workplace violence, this harassment often involves threats or physical attacks. If you feel threatened in your environment, be sure to check with the EEOC to see what steps you need to take so that you are taking charge of your situation, then call an attorney who specializes in the field, like those of us at Hershey Injury Law.
  8. Power harassment: At its root, this is basically a form of bullying in which one person who has power over another uses that power to harass the lower ranking person. This is most often seen between a manager or supervisor and those they are in charge of. Power harassment can consist of things like outrageous or demeaning demands or psychological intimidation.
  9. Sexual harassment: This type of harassment is considered to be one of the largest problems. It includes anything from unwanted sharing of sexual photos to inappropriate sexual gestures. Movements like the #MeToo campaign have brought sexual harassment to the surface and made many victims more comfortable about coming out regarding their harassment, where once they may have felt intimidated or ashamed.

Sexual harassment is often difficult to prove, but it is taken very seriously, especially when it occurs in the workplace. Common themes of “quid pro quo,” requests for sexual acts in return for workplace favors, continue to run rampant even with strict policies and procedures in place to eliminate them. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, be sure to contact those of us at Hershey Injury Law to see how we may be able to help you stop the harassment.

  1. Retaliation harassment: When a person engages in harassing behavior towards another person in an effort to get revenge for a complaint made against them, this is called retaliation harassment. This type of harassment is often overlooked but can result in serious consequences.

What Should You Do If You Are Being Harassed?

Your employers should have policies and procedures in place to prevent harassment in their business. These policies should be made clear to each employee from the beginning of employment. However, this does not deter as many people as one would think.

If you are being harassed, document the actions as best as possible. Take notes or find witnesses if you can, and talk to your employer about the discrimination. They should have a complaint or grievance process that you can initiate. This should be done early, before the situation escalates.

From there, your employer should follow their procedures to address the concerns to the harasser, letting him or her know that their behavior and remarks are unwelcome. They should be advised as to the possible consequences if they do not stop.

So What Are Your Rights If You Have Been Continually Harassed at Work?

Once your employer knows about the harassment and they do not take enough steps to stop it, they can become liable for the discrimination. However, you as the employee need to take steps to show that you have followed the correct grievance process to stop the harassing behavior and it continued unnecessarily.

First of all, as much as you want to, it is highly suggested that you do not quit the job. Quitting ends up placing you in tough situations, such as having to fight for unemployment. It also can make a discrimination claim difficult to prove.

However, while you are still in the hostile environment, you do not have to be victimized. Take charge by writing down what happened, including as many details as you can remember. Make sure to note any possible witnesses and the possibility of cameras that may have caught the actions.

Be sure to notify your employer. This starts the process of either ending the behavior, or ensuring that you have sufficient evidence later should you need to pursue legal avenues to stop the harassment. Not notifying your employer early enough can actually damage your case if you decide to sue.

Continue to monitor the behavior closely, as well as the steps your employer is taking to address the situation. If the harassment continues beyond what seems to be a reasonable period of time for your supervisor to handle it, you may need to seek an attorney’s assistance to get the behavior to end.

While you want to give your employer time to address the problem themselves, you need to be aware of time limits for filing charges for discriminatory acts. The EEOC allows 300 days from the time the action took place for the initial charge to be made, and then each step afterwards has a statute of time to be performed as well. Hiring an attorney can help you avoid the stress of managing these deadlines.

Take Charge of Your Career – End the Harassment Today

If discrimination is a problem in your workplace and you feel that it is out of control, you may need help to determine your next course of action. Before you do anything drastic, like quitting your job, call us at Hershey Injury Law.

At our office, we have attorneys who truly care about you as a person, and we want to help make sure these discriminatory acts are stopped. Schedule a free consultation to see how we can help you make your job a safe and comfortable place for you to be.